Salomon v. Salomon & Co.  A.C. 22 (H.L.)
Salomon v. Salomon & Co. (1896),  A.C. 22 (H.L.) is a foundational decision of the House of Lords in the area of company law. The effect of the Lords' unanimous ruling was to firmly uphold the concept of a corporation as an independent legal entity, as set out in the Companies Act 1862.
Aron Salomon was a successful leather merchant who specialized in manufacturing leather boots. For many years he ran his business as a sole proprietor. By 1892, his sons had become interested in taking part in the business. Salomon decided to incorporate his business as a Limited Liability Company, Salomon & Co. Ltd.
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The lord justices of appeal variously described the company as a myth and a fiction and said that the incorporation of the business by Mr. Salomon had been a mere scheme to enable him to carry on as before but with limited liability.
The House of Lords unanimously overturned this decision, rejecting the arguments from agency and fraud. They held that there was nothing in the Act about whether the subscribers (i.e. the shareholders) should be independent of the majority shareholder. The company was duly constituted in law and it was not the function of judges to read into the statute limitations they themselves considered expedient. The 1862 Act created limited liability companies as legal persons separate and distinct from the shareholders. Lord Halsbury stated that the statute "enacts nothing as to the extent or degree of interest which may be held by each of the seven [shareholders] or as to the proportion of interest or influence possessed by one or the majority over the others."
Lord Halsbury remarked that - even if he were to accept the proposition that judges were at liberty to insert words to manifest the intention they wished to impute to the Legislature - he was unable to discover what affirmative proposition the Court of Appeal's logic suggested. He considered that identifying such an affirmative proposition represented an "insuperable difficulty" for anyone putting forward the argument propounded by the lord justices of appeal.
Lord Herschell noted the potentially "far reaching" implications of the Court of Appeal's logic and that in recent years many companies had been set up in which one or more of the seven shareholders were "disinterested persons" who did not wield any influence over the management of the company. Anyone dealing with such a company was aware of its nature as such, and could by consulting the register of shareholders become aware of the breakdown of share ownership among the shareholders.
Lord Macnaghten asked what was wrong with Mr. Salomon taking advantage of the provisions set out in the statute, as he was perfectly legitimately entitled to do. It was not...